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M65 Atomic Cannon - "Atomic Annie" - Origins

The M65 was based on the design of the 280mm (about 11") German K5 Railroad Gun. Its design, and name, both derive from the German K5(E) railroad gun "Anzio Annie" deployed against the American landings in Italy in WWII. The M65 was transported between detachable front and rear transport tractors. The Japanese had made a strong impression when they employed 280mm howitzers against Port-Arthur during their war against Russia in 1904-5. The French and the Russians collaborated afterwards to develop a similar weapon.

In November 1944, the US Army, on the basis of combat experience, was issued a requirement to create a 240-mm long-range gun, in addition to the 203mm M1 gun and the 240mm M1 howitzer, which were the most powerful of the available military mobile land vehicles. The task of the new gun was to defeat the heavily fortified targets and communication centers, as well as counterbattery combat with heavy enemy artillery. As a result, the gun was made. But it became atomic at a later date.

In 1949, the US Atomic Energy Commission announced the development of a 280-mm caliber nuclear projectile. In June 1949 the director of plans and operations on the Army staff informed General Omar Bradley, who had succeeded Eisenhower as chief of staff, that “increasing commitments to hold in Europe” in the event of war with the Soviets had established a requirement for a short-to-medium range guided missile with an atomic warhead suitable for employment against concentrations of troops and supplies.” Early in 1950, even though adequate forces were not then available, the JCS began work on a plan that when approved in December (following the decision to meet NSC 68’s rearmament objectives) called for defending in Europe “as far east as possible.”

Secretary of the Army Gordon Gray questioned whether his service was giving research and development sufficient organizational emphasis to prepare itself for “a war of the foreseeable future” in which the United States would have to depend on weapons of superior quality to overcome the manpower advantages of its opponents. In the spring of 1950, he tasked a group of the Army’s highest-level civilian and uniformed leaders, led by Under Secretary Tracy S. Voorhees and assisted by Vannevar Bush, to investigate what might be needed to enable ground forces to halt a Soviet armored advance on the continent.

The study group’s report was submitted to the new secretary of the Army, Frank Pace, Jr., on 19 April 1950. The report concluded that the Army must take action in a number of areas to hold its position in Europe against the Soviets. The report noted that a 280-mm artillery piece, which could fire an atomic projectile 15 miles, could quickly be constructed by converting the prototype of the 240-mm gun.

A defense that was based on these weapons would not be seen as an “offensive threat” in contrast to expanding “strategic bombing” capabilities. “This consideration is important,” claimed the study group, “because current thinking recognizes the danger that making ourselves strong may itself tend to trigger-off the very Russian attack which it seeks to avert.” As well as putting the spotlight on research and development, the report was noteworthy for other reasons. First, it reflected the natural desire within the Army to find a vital role for itself in national military strategy. Second, the emphasis on defensive weapons was in accord with the hope of many scientists for an alternative to an all-out air offensive employing nuclear weapons.

In the spring of 1951, Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall and Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Lovett, while conferring with Senator Brien McMahon, agreed that there was some need for more light weight, tactical atomic weapons in the US stockpile. Project VISTA at the California Institute of Technology got under way in 1951. VISTA grew out of the desire to improve air-ground coordination on the Korean battlefield, but soon morphed into a study of a future battlefield in Western Europe. By late December the study conclusions were being drawn up, and by February 1952 the report was briefed several times in Washington, DC.15 The VISTA report stressed the need to develop a tactical atomic capability.



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